There seems to be a great deal of confusion about what the Immaculate Conception is, to whom it happened and what it means. I have even heard people phoning Catholic Answers who seem to believe that the Papists made it all up in 1854, having nothing better to do than make up new dogmas.
So what is it all about?
From the beginning God had a plan of salvation for us poor sinners. According to tradition it was this plan that caused Satan to fall as he refused to serve a mere human woman and could not countenance the idea of the Second Person being made flesh.
God chose Mary to be the Mother of His Son and so at the moment of her conception He filled her with grace so that she was made as Eve had been made, pure and without stain or lack of Grace. Hence when the Archangel Gabriel comes to ask her to be the Mother of God he greets her “Hail full of grace.”
The objection frequently goes along the lines that God could not possibly have saved someone before the action of the Cross and Resurrection. And I can’t help wondering if there is just a hint of, if God was going to save someone to that extent He wouldn’t choose a woman.
The answer is that God is not bound by time. He can save whomever He chooses and He chose to save His mother in a special way. Why wouldn’t He? Mary herself proclaims that God is her Saviour in her Magnificat hymn.
The next question often asked is whether Mary’s Immaculate Conception was necessary.
The answer is that it was not necessary but it was fitting. God had already prepared us for her perfection in how He instructed Moses to build the Ark. The Ark is made of the most precious materials both inside and out. The bread given by heaven (manna), the Law and Aaron’s staff (priesthood) is placed within the gold lined box of the Ark of the Covenant. The fact that only the very best, finest materials are used for this great liturgical object is because God is worthy of such and we need the constant reminder of just how Almighty and Glorious our God is.
It was the fact that Cain did not offer the best to God, but kept it for himself that led to his anger and fratricide. And it was Judas who was angry at the expensive ointment being “wasted” on Jesus, and this led to his betrayal and death.
St. Francis of Assisi dressed and lived in poverty but he ensured that churches were beautiful, that vestments and the objects for saying Mass were of the finest quality, as God is worthy of the very best we can give him.
One of the obstacles in accepting the Immaculate Conception of Mary, I think, may be rooted in the fact that over the last generation we have begun to make our churches cheaper, plainer and unadorned, while our homes are filled with the very best we can afford. The great Cathedrals built by the poor of the faith filled Middle Ages are almost a thing of the past.
Finally the question comes up about whether being Immaculately conceived means that Our Lady was conceived in some miraculous way rather than in the usual God designed way.
I have read some suggestion that there was a miraculous conception (Catherine Anne Emmerich’s visions suggested this) but the Church has not said so as far as I know so I think we are free to believe either way. Personally I tend to believe she was conceived normally after SS Joachim and Anna had gone through many trials thanks to their childlessness over the years.